Twelve-year-old Lucas Holland slid from the shadows and into the moonlight. Tucking wild strands of his blond hair beneath his black bandana, he imagined himself a Ninja pirate, dressed all in black and creeping around at 2AM when no cars or people were in sight. He stealthily raised the wooden baseball bat he carried, moving back to the edge of the sidewalk, giving himself plenty of room for what he planned to do.
Before him, the Emerald took up the entire block at the center of Havelock Avenue. The Irish pub, with its white stucco walls and oak beams, was a legendary steak house there in the small suburb. Patrons included Irish railroaders, Husker football fans, MMA fighters, and dozens of biker clubs fund-raising with Poker runs for one good cause or another, the entire rough crowd all drawn there by its home-brewed ale and its fine Nebraska beef.
Lucas faced the huge stained-glass window that dominated the pub’s front wall. It was a central focal point along the five-block business district, depicting a black dragon in flight, the red flames erupting from his mouth contrasting sharply with the green emerald clutched in his talons.
Lucas narrowed his eyes for he could have sworn the flames slowly unfurled as he faced the building, and if he squinted just right, he detected a slight flutter of the dragon’s wings. He froze there on the sidewalk, creeped out by the emerald pulsating with an eerie green light within the six-by-six foot circular window.
Old man Billy Connors should have never interfered in Den business. By doing so, the old Irishman, owner of the Emerald, had rudely insulted Stone Holland, Lucas’s father and president of the Elder’s Den biker club. Billy and Stone had a tiff over a dogfight. Old Billy had involved the Outlaws, a rival club, and Stone Holland had lost face over the deal. Lucas was determined to get even with the old Irishman for making his dad look bad.
He dug down inside his jean pockets for one of the black rocks he’d stuffed them with earlier on his way down to the Avenue. He plucked out one sleek, black stone, tossing it up into the air a few times. Remembering what his Uncle Nate had said about putting a bullet from his .357 directly through Billy’s prized window, Lucas determined he would beat his uncle to it. He thought about stealing Nate’s big pistol, but he knew he’d probably get caught and throttled by his dad for such an infraction, so he resorted to the next best thing besides bullets: Rocks.
Satisfied that the one he’d selected would do, Lucas tossed it up into the air, took hold of his bat with both hands, and swung at the falling rock with all his might.
Thock! The satisfying sound echoed up and down the Avenue, bringing a smirk to his face, and his powerful swing of the bat sent the rock flying directly at the illuminated window.
Prrrrrrfht! was the sound that came from the panes of the colored window as the rock struck it. Where Lucas expected shattering glass and a domino-effect of complete destruction, figuring the entire window would cave in, he blinked in astonishment. The rock struck the glass and was literally sucked inside the stained-glass window.
“What the holy hell!” he gasped, staring at the ripples that passed through the entire artistic creation. In the aftermath of what he expected to be a satisfying crash, he stood there watching the dragon shudder as the warbled, rippling effect flowed over it.
Lucas tried another rock. He tossed it high in the air, swung the bat two-handed, and Thock! sent another sleek, black rock at the stained-glass window of the Emerald. Phhhhrrfring! echoed shrilly in his ears. He blinked again, shaking his head as this rock, too, simply vanished within the deep greens of the emerald clutched in the dragon’s talons. The same ripples spread swiftly across the face of the backlit window. This time when they reached the dragon’s flames, there came an airy Poof! And the flames flickered as if they had been splattered by cold water.
“No way!” Lucas growled. “No way in hell!”
He gripped the baseball bat in both hands, swung it back and over his shoulder, and charged at the window, determined to shatter it to smithereens. The bat struck the glass with considerable force, passed completely through the window, and the momentum of his charge carried Lucas forward and on into the pub.
He landed just opposite of the stained-glass window on a bearskin rug spread out before an enormous stone fireplace. He cringed and closed his eyes, fully expecting the entire window to come crashing down on him, showering him with a bright burst of colored glass as it shattered into a million pieces.
But when he opened his eyes, the window behind him remained intact. Not even a crack to show he’d come through it. Lucas’s brow furrowed deeply as he stood up. He shivered as he realized he had just passed through the multi-colored glass without a scratch or even the slightest cut on his hands and arms. He shivered again, just thinking how he should really be plucking slivers of sharp glass from his skin, and yet there he stood, unharmed.
He reached up, removing the bandana from his head, golden hair spilling down past the collar of his black T-shirt. He used the bandana to wipe the sweat from his brow, and a few tears from his cheeks. He couldn’t help himself, the tears came out of his amazement. There was no way he could have fallen through that window without breaking it or cutting himself to bloody ribbons.
Blinking away tears to clear his vision, Lucas looked to the seven stag-heads mounted above the fireplace mantle. Streamers of green Christmas lights hung from the many antlers of the proud-looking deer, resembling fireflies drifting through the darkness of the pub. Just beneath the mounted stag-heads was a wooden plaque, one that Lucas had heard so much about growing up in Havelock, the Irish-Catholic community founded by Irish railroaders back in the 1800’s.
The oak plaque was engraved with words and sported two perfectly round bullet holes above the words. Those holes had been left there by another Havelock kid, determined to take Old Billy Connors out of this world. From the story Lucas had heard, the old Irishman refused to involve the Irish mob in an act of revenge for a young girl that the boy had fallen in love with.
That was the mushy part of the story, the part that hardly interested Lucas. But he did, however, like the part that the boy had stolen that same gun earlier that night while car-shopping. It just so happened that the gun had been used to murder the young girl that the boy demanded vengeance for. The kid used it to try and shoot Billy late one night. Evidently, he had failed, yet left behind two bullets in the plaque above the fireplace. The ballistics had linked the gun to the murderer and served to put the shooter away for his crime.
Hesitantly, Lucas raised his hand as he tried to touch the bullet holes. Being only 4 foot 10, he had to stand on his tiptoes to reach the plaque. As his fingers grazed the two round holes, he read the words of the plaque out loud: “Dedicated to William Connors, for his service to the Sinn Fian.”
He said, “Sin,” pronouncing it the wrong way, and seconds later a gruff voice came from the shadows at the back of the pub: “Shinn Fayn, lad. It means, ‘We Ourselves,’ and is a left-wing Irish political party in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
Old Billy Connors stepped out of the blackness just beyond the pub’s pool tables. Dressed in a three-piece suit, his long, silver hair fell loose about his slender shoulders, while beneath his hawk-like nose was a thick, white mustache. But it was his amazingly blue eyes that pierced Lucas where he stood, nailing him in place.
Greatly reminding Lucas of Mark Twain, the old Irishman quietly asked, “Do you have some quarrel with me, laddie?”
Unable to muster any words that would make sense, Lucas searched the room, frantically looking for an escape route. To the right of the fireplace was a dark hallway stretching toward a round oak door standing closed at the end of the ten-foot hall. Above the door was another wooden plaque that read:
Here, there be dragons.
Enter at your own peril.
A strange bright light leaked out from beneath the door and slithered into the hallway, illuminating its walls with a greenish light. Lucas turned and ran toward the door.
“Don’t!” Billy shouted at him. “Don’t you dare go in there, boyo! I swear to you, no good thing will come of it!”
Ignoring the old man’s ranting, Lucas pulled on a rusty door latch, swinging the door open. The fresh scent of mint washed over him and a slight breeze ruffled the strands of his unruly hair.
Keenly aware of the solid footsteps behind him, he ran through the doorway and the door slammed shut behind him, cutting him off from this world, and sending him to the next one beyond.